Pope Francis is famous for his tendency to shoot from the hip, which is unfortunate for someone whose every word is watched for significant and authoritative pronouncements. His bad habit was on full display Friday; in expressing sympathy with Ukrainians, the pope declared: “There is no such thing as a just war: they do not exist!” In that single sentence, the pontiff swept aside centuries of Catholic teaching and even undercut the ground for the Ukrainian resistance to the Russian invasion. All in a day’s work for the Marxist who warns against Marxism.
The pope held an audience Friday morning for participants in an international congress, “Educating for democracy in a fragmented world,” which was promoted by a pontifical foundation and held at a Roman university, the Libera Università Maria SS. Assunta (LUMSA). He began his remarks by marveling at how much more dangerous the world has suddenly become: “We are used to hearing news of wars, but far away. Syria, Yemen… the usual. Now the war has come closer, it is on our doorstep, practically.”
Syria, Yemen, the usual? That was callous enough coming from someone who should be as concerned about wars in Syria and Yemen as he is about war in Ukraine, and the pope was just getting warmed up. “And this,” he said, “makes us think about the ‘savagery’ of human nature, how far we are capable of going. Murderers of our brothers.” The war in Ukraine was, of course, uppermost in his thoughts: “We think of so many soldiers who are sent to the front, very young, Russian soldiers, poor things. Think of the many young Ukrainian soldiers; think of the inhabitants, the young people, the young girls, boys, girls… This is happening close to us.”
Christians, the pope continued, should not be indifferent to all this: “The Gospel only asks us not to look the other way, which is precisely the most pagan attitude of Christians: the Christian, when he gets used to looking the other way, slowly becomes a pagan disguised as a Christian. This is why I wanted to begin with this, with this reflection. The war is not far away: it is at our doorstep. What am I doing? Here in Rome, at the ‘Bambino Gesù’ Hospital, there are children wounded by the bombings. At home, they take them home. Do I pray? Do I fast? Do I do penance? Or do I live carefree, as we normally live through distant wars? A war is always – always! – the defeat of humanity, always. We, the educated, who work in education, are defeated by this war, because on another side we are responsible. There is no such thing as a just war: they do not exist!”
Now wait a minute. The pope appears to have been saying that no war can be legitimate: all wars represent a defeat of humanity, and no wars are just. But the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that while “all citizens and all governments are obliged to work for the avoidance of war,” there is an important caveat: “as long as the danger of war persists and there is no international authority with the necessary competence and power, governments cannot be denied the right of lawful self-defense, once all peace efforts have failed.” That’s what the Ukrainians are engaged in now. Isn’t their war just?
The Catechism goes on to set out “strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force.” These include the provisions that “the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain”; “all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective”; “there must be serious prospects of success”; and “the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.”
The Catechism even goes on to note that “these are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the ‘just war’ doctrine.” But now we hear from Pope Francis that “there is no such thing as a just war.” The pope also said that “In the context caused by the war in Ukraine,” it was all the more important to promote the idea “universal brotherhood in the one human family, based on love.” That’s great, but sometimes the aggressor must be repelled, as the Ukrainians are trying to do, and the pope has just cut the theological ground out from under them, at least as far as Ukrainian Catholics are concerned.
This is as irresponsible and destructive as the pope’s dalliances with Marxism. If he is really upset about the war in Ukraine, he should be affirming the relevance of the just war doctrine, not undercutting it. He is an unserious individual in an age of frivolous and short-sighted leaders.